Tips for personal customer service in a virtual world

What is good customer service?

Susannah Friis wrote: For me, it’s helpfulness, coupled with polite friendliness. If I crack a joke and the sales person laughs, they are my new best friend. (Find Susannah at Personally Speaking and follow her writing journey at The Writerly Way. Stop by, say g’day.)

Geoffrey VanDyck, VanDyck Computers, wrote: It starts with the customer. Without the customer, there is no business. If helping the customer is beyond the capability of the customer service agent, then it means directing the customer to someone with the authority to do something. (If you are in Minot, ND, look to Geoffrey for his awesome computer skills. Find Geoffrey on Facebook.)

Jessica Pettengill Messinger wrote: Customer service reps who sound like they’re smiling, who are friendly, and who do all they can to help get my appreciation. If they can’t help you, they should refer you up the chain of command. I talked with a customer service rep today, and she made a very stressful situation much better because she was pleasant. (Check out Jessica’s children’s book Stinky Feet via CreateSpace.)

Tonia Marie Houston wrote: A good customer service rep knows how to listen before asking the right questions. This takes empathy, experience, and respect. (See Tonia Marie blogging at Passionfind or at the group blog Hugs and Chocolate.)


Years ago, I could walk into a local store and the cashier would call me by name and shake my hand. I’d ask for specials, find a few sales, and get a good deal. I would walk out of the store feeling valued, an important person.


Much is lost via internet connections, emails, Facebook messages. You don’t get the same friendly face-to-face you used to.

“Shake hands” as soon as possible

When I get an email from a prospective client, I send a return email within 24 hours.

If I know I cannot respond to emails within a day (travel, family visiting, whatever), I consider putting an auto reply in my email with a brief explanation for my absence and my estimated return.

Sharing, not dumping

When I connect with a new person online, I check out their Facebook, Twitter, website, and blog.

When I respond, I interject something personal. Like, “I see you live in eastern Pennsylvania. My mom grew up in Lansford, PA.” Or, “I see you are a Yankees fan. I’m a die-hard Phillies Phan. Perhaps I will see you in the play-offs?”

Agreements and promises

Agreements, with or without a contract, are critical. Though I conduct most editing business with a contract, I often mentor and advise without a contract.

If I promise turn-around in three days, you get turn-around in three days.

Honesty and providing other resources

Recently, a prospective client came to me with a sword & sorcery novel. I told him his genre was not my strong suit. Even so, I gave a free sample of my editing prowess, noting problems, suggesting numerous changes and improvements. I also suggested a number of editors he could contact if he was not happy with my critique.

Obligations, sincere apologies, no excuses

Ever screw up? Yeah, me too. See my recent blog post, Obligations, sincere apologies, no excuses.

What personal touch do you miss with virtual customer service? How do you connect – personally – with new friends via the internet?


Opening photo by Rhonda Harvey. Connect with Rhonda via Facebook or on her Rhonda Is Losing It blog.

Handshake photo by Charles Simpson Global via Photobucket.


Karen S. Elliott was raised by a mother who wanted to be an English teacher and who worked for Merriam-Webster as a proofreader and an aunt who could complete the Sunday New York Times crossword in a day. Their favorite expression was, “Look it up!” Karen is an editor and proofreader, blogger, writer, and a fabulous grandmother to two wonderful little boys.


Filed under Branding & Platform, Social Networking

16 responses to “Tips for personal customer service in a virtual world

  1. I think this “time” fits me as I like to be left alone until I make some decision, then I want to call someone over. But, two things bug me: 1) when I walk into a business and the salesperson won’t leave me alone -trying to pressure me into something or other, hanging around me, hovering – ugh! go away! or the backside of that 2) when I am ready to make some decision and have a question and the salespeople aren’t interested in helping, looking bored and impatient – that’ll send me out of the store.

  2. I don’t like hovering salespeople either. I feel like they are waiting to suck my blood. But I do like to be able to FIND someone. And I hate when I hear, “That’s the best we can do,” or “We can’t help you.” Ugh on that too.

  3. I haven’t been to the USA but apparently, you have much better customer service than we do. So if you think it’s bad over your way, imagine what we put up with!!

    All the things you listed that you do are why I love you so much! Can’t wait to work with you professionally 🙂

    • I have only the USA, eensy bit of Canada (good, as I recall), horrible experiences in Mexico, and great experiences in Germany. What you said in your quote, about cracking jokes – I do that sometimes and I get a stare. Some people have no sense of humor.

  4. I’ve been the sales rep who’s is pushed to be pushy, and the customer service rep on the other end of the phone whose employer targets quota and time-cost over quality and friendliness. It’s tough to find the balance, but it is there for anyone worth their mettle in customer service.

    Great post, Karen. You are the consummate professional. 🙂

  5. I think I miss the polite and mannerly way things used to be. E-mail is hard to get emotion out of, so even if the person IS friendly and polite and mannerly, it still comes across as pretty flat.

    You have the right idea with how some things from the “real” world can translate professionally into the digital. Great, thoughtful list!

  6. I began work as a sales clerk in a gift shop. The owner was a wonderful German woman who told me the very first day, “Treat every customer as if they were special.” I have never forgotten that. I think that can be translated into internet sales as well.

  7. This is a great article from a professional who truly “walks the walk.” In all the times you’ve edited content for me, Karen, you do what you say, you do it extremely well, and you always over-deliver.

    Rather than bemoan the loss of yesteryear, however, I think those who use social media and the internet appropriately have, in a very real sense, come full circle back to the days of our parents and grandparents who made agreements with a handshake and whose word was their honor. Those people are alive and well in the online world, you, Karen, being a case in point.

    My personal and professional friendship with you (and some other commenters) would never have happened without the current technology tools.

    It’s all about authentic connection. Always has been. Always will be.

  8. I would never have met you E., without the internet. Thank the gods for the internet, I say! That said, it doesn’t mean we have to send automated response after automated response. Every so often a little “personal” helps. I agree – it’s about the authentic connection. Those that do not realize that, well…

    I thank Elizabeth for connecting me with Esther Miller, who has an awesome blog over at Heartspoken –

  9. Thank you, Darlene, for the Beautiful Blogger Award! I am honored. 🙂

  10. This is a great post and you (all) offer a lot of good advice, too. It’s extremely important to provide stellar customer service since that is what will help businesses keep customers as well as welcome new customers. Customers are the backbone of a business. Also, customers aren’t hesitant to leave a review or voice their opinion or concern about a company. I recently purchased new bedroom furniture that was shipped directly to my house. I was so pleased with the service that I left a positive Home Direct review. I also informed my friends, family and neighbors to use the same company. Word of mouth travels fast!

    • I agree, that news – good or bad – travels fast. Especially now with FB and all the social networking we have. When I have a bad experience (like with HughesNet!), I let everyone know. I also like to tell people when I get great customer service (now, with I also think that customer service people appreciate an “atta boy” sometimes – just call to tell them they are doing a good job.

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